JNS.org – According to Israeli defense and security establishment estimates, about half of the some 14,000 terrorists to whom Israel has granted early release over the past 35 years resumed their terrorist activities. Many of the 1,027 freed in 2011 in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit also went on to commit more attacks, despite assessments in Israel that they could be prevented from doing so.
Thus it comes as no surprise that as Israel now weighs another release of terrorist prisoners, in exchange for the bodies of fallen soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, who were killed in “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, and Israeli captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed, bereaved families who lost loved ones to freed terrorists are trying to keep it from happening.
Devorah Gonen, whose son Danny was murdered by two released terrorists near Dolev in Samaria five years ago, rejects any deal to release terrorists, “with or without blood on their hands, for reasons of justice and morality.”
According to Gonen, “There are a lot more tactics that haven’t been tried to bring the boys [Shaul and Goldin] home, but Israel has consistently avoided using them.”
While Israel must secure the return of captives, said Gonen, it must do so without creating more bereaved families.
“Hamas in Gaza gets electricity and fuel and metals and money and food and other goods from Israel. All these are leverage that hasn’t been used. I don’t think that because we need to bring the boys home — and there is no argument that we need to — that means making more bereaved families. We released Gilad Shalit and got 10 more bereaved families, whose loved ones were murdered by terrorists freed in that deal, or with their help,” said Gonen, who added that she believes “absolutely” that the Goldin and Mengistu families oppose the release of terrorists.
“I wouldn’t want to be in their place, but I don’t want to be in my place either, and I don’t want other families to be where I am,” she said. “The political leadership finally has to realize that by releasing terrorists, you are sending innocent civilians to be executed, if not tomorrow, then the day after. … If I sound bad, then I apologize, but it’s not a price I’m willing to let the country pay. Even the families who want to bring the boys home aren’t willing to pay that price.”
Hadas Mizrahi, the widow of Baruch Mizrahi, who was murdered on Passover Eve 2014 by Ziad Awad — another prisoner freed in the Shalit deal — agrees with Gonen. According to Mizrahi, not only do freed prisoners go on to commit additional murders, but “their very release gives terrorism a tailwind, expands its scope, and invites other abductions.”
“What I went through and am still going through is a lifelong trauma. Baruch was murdered. I was very seriously wounded. My children, who were in the car, were also wounded. These are sights that never leave us, and I’m asking/pleading that the decision-makers not release any more terrorists, because they’ll commit more murders,” she said.
Ahmad al-Najar, yet another Shalit-deal prisoner, was involved in the shooting murder of Malachi Rosenfeld in June 2015. Al-Najar, a Hamas member, planned the attack from Jordan. He had been in prison in Israel for his involvement in terrorist shootings in which six Israelis were killed. Malachi’s father Eliezer wants Israel to reinstate its policy of an even exchange of bodies.
“If they don’t agree to that, we need to show Hamas strength. No fuel, no metals, no money, no medicine, no electricity, no water; they will be given nothing, until the boys are home,” said Rosenfeld.
Recently, Rosenfeld, Gonen, and Mizrahi, along with dozens of other families, established a group to fight deals that free terrorists. Its ranks include organizations that represent bereaved families, as well as legal scholars and security experts who share their views.
One is Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, who until four years ago served as the Israel Defense Force’s chief military prosecutor for Judea and Samaria, and spearheaded the process that rounded up many of the recidivist terrorists freed in exchange for Shalit. He instituted the process after Mahmoud Kawasme, another prisoner freed in that deal, helped orchestrate the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens in June 2014.
According to Hirsch, who today heads the legal department for the Palestinian Media Watch research organization, “Every wave of releases gnaws away at our deterrence, and freeing terrorists leads to more terrorism that leads to more victims.”
Asked whether anyone has ever looked into the number of freed terrorists that return to terrorist activity, Hirsch said, “I spent a lot of years in the system, and my clear sense is that no one wants to know the answer to that question. … Only when we started re-imprisoning terrorists freed in exchange for Shalit who went back to terrorism did we realize how widespread a phenomenon it was.”
According to Hirsch, he was “amazed” by the numbers.
“The deal itself was in two parts — at first 475 ‘major’ terrorists, [released] mostly to Gaza or abroad, with a few, about 130, returned to Israel and Judea and Samaria. About half of those returned to our territory resumed terrorist activity, as dozens of the 550 terrorists who were freed in the second part of the deal were re-arrested.” Many others, he added, haven’t been arrested due to a lack of evidence.
“It’s terrible that the decision-makers still don’t understand that the terrorists you release today will sooner or later return to murdering Jews,” said Hirsch. “A lot of the freed terrorists are out there in Gaza or the world, committing terrorism, leading terrorist activity, and up to their necks in terrorism.”
Imprisoned terrorists don’t understand that their actions were morally unacceptable, said Hirsch, and “certainly aren’t ‘rehabilitated.’”
While, as Hirsch says, there has been no systematic study of terrorists who go back to terrorism conducted by the Israeli government, here are some facts that are known:
The Jibril Deal of 1985 freed 1,150 terrorists, who became the backbone of the First Intifada. According to a “sample” the Defense Ministry ran on 238 of those prisoners, 114 were confirmed to have gone back to terrorism. Dozens of the terrorists freed in exchange for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum also resumed their terrorist ways. As of April 2007, they had murdered 37 Israelis.
Former Israel Security Agency director Yoram Cohen, who supported the Shalit deal, stated frankly at the time that based on past experience, some 60% of prisoners released would go back to terrorism and 12% would wind up back in prison.
Dozens of Israelis have been murdered by terrorists freed in exchange for Shalit, or by those helped by those terrorists: Baruch Mizrahi, Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, Danny Gonen, Malachi Rosenfeld, Rabbi Michael Mark, soldiers Yosef Cohen and Yuval Mor-Yosef, and the infant Amiad Yisrael. The last three were killed in the Binyamin region in attacks from Gaza by Jasser Barghouti.
The possibility of another upcoming release of prisoners, even if they haven’t committed murder, or were re-imprisoned after the Shalit deal, haunts the bereaved families. A number of Knesset members have also taken up the banner, most notably Likud MK Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan. Dayan spoke before the Shamgar Commission, which was appointed by then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak to set policy on negotiating for the release of Israeli captives and MIAs. When the commission was founded in July 2008, it had already been decided not to publish its recommendations until after Shalit, who was abducted by Hamas terrorists on the Gaza border in 2006, was returned.
The commission published its conclusions in 2012, but they were classified top secret. The report has never been published in full, but some of its points have been revealed in the media, without approval from the commission. The commission reportedly determined, for example, that captive Israeli soldiers would be freed in exchange for no more than a handful of terrorist prisoners, and that a body of an Israeli casualty would be “redeemed” for one terrorist’s body.
According to the media reports, the commission supposedly decided on four levels of governmental obligation to Israeli citizens, in descending order: soldiers captured during a military operation; Israeli civilians captured as a result of terrorist activity; Israeli civilians taken captive after mistakenly crossing the border into Palestinian territory; and other civilians who mistakenly cross the border and are captured.
Dayan warns against “an atmosphere we have already experienced, of paying insufferable prices that hurt all of us and especially many more families who become victims of terrorism, and even weakens our battle against terrorism.”
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist. A version of this article first appeared in Israel Hayom.